How automation can boost medical device success

Friday, June 21, 2019

Source: MassDevice

Automation doesn’t just deliver speed and cost savings. It provides many benefits with regard to manufacturing efficiency, quality, consistency and flexibility.

Reduced scrap and improved product consistency are among advantages of automation in medical device manufacturing. (Image by Web Industries)

Automated medical device manufacturing is not all about reducing costs, though that certainly is a major long-term benefit. Other automation advantages are often overlooked and underestimated.

Controlling consistency

Automated medical device production reduces product variability and improves overall quality. The combination of cameras, sensors and computing technology on today’s automated machinery provides highly effective error detection and in many cases, automatic correction. For example, these systems can automatically detect if a device is out of tolerance while materials are moving inline at high speeds. By comparison, manual production requires a slow-down or stop so that samples can be evaluated by the human eye.

Ideally, an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or developer should consider the role of automation very early in the device design process. It can be helpful to collaborate with a contract manufacturer that has automation expertise. By considering automation from a product’s inception, production partners can:

  • Ensure materials are available in formats suitable for high-volume, automated manufacturing processes.
  • Identify how different automated production techniques can reduce product variability.
  • Reduce cycle time required to transfer a manual or batch process to a fully automated process.

Increasing flexibility and responsiveness

For some, automation may summon perceptions of being locked into rigid requirements, with little ability to change course if product parameters change. However, the opposite is true. Well-designed medical devices and automated production processes lend themselves to flexibility. For example, adjustments often can quickly be made to device dimensions and the position of product features.

Automation also gives medical device OEMs and developers the flexibility to easily scale up their production without adding costs. Whereas a manual batch production system might require significant labor and training investment to ramp up manufacturing, an automated system can typically scale to support major output increases without large additional expenses.

With automation, OEMs also reduce risks associated with dependence on labor-intensive manufacturing. A case in point: By working with a highly automated U.S.-based contract manufacturing organization (CMO), an OEM decreases the risk that its product supply might be interrupted by overseas labor issues or unexpected tariffs.

Reducing waste and improving productivity

Automated systems can increase the yield from every production run, resulting in material savings. Consider these findings from a study by Kinematic Automation. The study compared the production of 5 mm-wide medical test strips using two methods. The first method was manual. Strips were cut from 333 30-cm cards. The second method was automated. Strips were cut from a 100-meter material roll. The scrap rate for the manual production method was 8.3%, whereas the scrap rate for the continuous reel-to-reel manufacturing method was less than 1%.

Investment payback

Automation requires significant capital. Often, a business will need to justify the investment by assessing it proportionally over the number of devices the automated equipment will produce. It is not profitable for companies to invest in underused equipment.

One benefit of partnering with a CMO is the opportunity to split the automation’s capacity and costs with other companies. Much like other shared services, this substantially cuts the cost-per-manufactured device. When manual labor is streamlined into high-precision machines, development and manufacturing teams can focus on improving efficiencies, expanding product lines and engaging in other profitable initiatives.

In conclusion, automation has myriad benefits beyond cost per device. In fact, it’s not about lower price; it’s about building better products. When device OEMs design with automation in mind and identify supply chain partners with automation expertise, they can improve consistency, reduce waste and respond more flexibly to market demand.

Claudio Hanna and Jennifer Ponti are business development managers for Web Industries’ medical division. Hanna’s background includes more than 20 years in flexible goods, and in starting up manufacturing facilities and automation. Ponti has more than 15 years of experience with lateral flow devices.

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